Slow Food in Schools – Connecting Kids with Sustainable Food

 

At Shamrock Gardens Elementary in Charlotte students are learning more than the three R’s. They are well on their way to becoming master gardeners. By learning where their food comes from, how to prepare it and the importance of sharing it with friends and family, these youngsters are gaining knowledge in food tradition and sustainability.

Slow Food is an international organization that seeks to counteract fast food, the disappearance of local food and how food choices affect the rest of the world. Through their Slow Food in Schools program, various Garden to Table projects connect students with  food to ensure a future of good, clean, fair food.

Program Director Michaele Fitzpatrick started the program last year with hopes of shifting beliefs about food. “Many kids today have no particular tie to the food that they eat. Much of it comes from a box or can, is heated, placed in front of them and they eat it without tasting flavors,” she says. “Why would a child think about a relationship with food when all they are exposed to is chicken nuggets or grilled cheese sandwiches?”

Students eagerly planted eggplant, basil, peppers, yellow squash, green beans and zucchini in raised bed gardens. After caring for the vegetables, they were harvested and eaten. Kids were asked to examine color, smell, texture and taste. Many had never been exposed to some of the vegetables.

Projects at Shamrock Gardens are stimulating and educational. Students have studied germination, transpiration, life cycles, wet and dry measurements, recipes and have even hunted bugs in the garden.  At the “garden mailbox” kids can deposit letters to the gardener, asking questions about plants, bugs and food and get written responses to their letters.
To drive home the importance of the traditional family meal, parents and children enjoyed a dinner of food donated by local producers and cooked and served by area chefs and students from the culinary program at the Art Institute of Charlotte. Fitzpatrick believes adults have the most influence in the attitudes children have about food.

“When the adults give the food and preparation a place of honor or importance, children see that and realize that food is there for the nourishment of both the body and the family group as a whole,” she states.

Fitzpatrick, a registered nurse, feels it is important to instill the benefits of nutrition at an early age. “As kids get older mindless eating, or gravitation towards “easy food” can lead to increased risk of diabetes and heart disease,” she says. “We are getting too many young people at the hospital who have chronic hypertension or insulin resistant diabetes. When you ask them about daily diet, it usually includes fast food.”

Through this experiential program taste buds and thought patterns are changed. Many kids complained that the basil in the garden smelled weird and did not like it. After they harvested the basil and made pesto in the classroom, opinions changed. “All the kids tried the pesto with samples of their garden tomatoes and crusty bread. About two thirds of them liked it, and we had five or so come back for seconds,” said.

“We hope in the future to incorporate the various cultures of many of the Shamrock students into the garden by planting plots focusing on traditional Hispanic vegetables, Asian vegetables, African vegetables, etc. We would then love to have the various families share their traditional recipes featuring these vegetables,” says Fitzpatrick.

The Garden to Table project at Shamrock Gardens has received a tremendous response from students. “We have found that peer pressure can be a wonderfully positive thing, and like with many new situations, the more the children are exposed to the garden and to trying new foods, the more comfortable they seem to be with it,” concludes Fitzpatrick.

For further information or to get involved in Slow Food in Schools, contact mjfitz@comporium.net or visit www.slowfoodcharlotte.org.

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